Ox-Taming

How often have you thought of taking up ox-taming as a career?

It’s not something I’ve explicitly thought of but I have been subconsciously aware that there is a skill to getting oxen to move specially when pulling big loads up steep hills as in the Lake Tanganyika Expedition.

So, it was with some interest that I read this article on South Africa’s Famous Ox-Tamer, William Kenneth Shuman. Although he was born after World War 1, the article provides some insight into the skill required and the relationship between the driver and the ox. This relationship has been supported and explained by Marthe Kiley-Worthington in her autobiography Family are the Friends you Choose in which she explains how she managed to get Cape buffalo (Africa’s indigenous bovine) to operate in the same way.

During the Great War in Africa, next to the carriers, ox-wagon was a major means of transporting goods between bases and the front line – many oxen succumbing to tsetse fly or sleeping sickness. In addition there was ‘beef on the hoof’ to move as herds of live cows were moved to provide fresh meat for the forces in base. Herding this number of bovine required skill and an intimate knowledge of the animal concerned. For this specialist labourers were brought in from South Africa in particular, mostly part of the Cape Labour Corps – a group we know even less about than the Cape Corps. While most of these labourers were coloured, there were white farmers and others who were employed as conductors to oversee the drivers. With the introduction of motorised vehicle units where similar terms seem to have been used, the contribution of these skilled cattle-men has been relegated to the depths of memory.

With little bits of information continuing to come to light through archival investigation, we might yet obtain an clearer picture of those, other than the veterinary staff, who looked after the animals on campaign. That cows were important was brought home recently when I transcribed the Kirkpatrick report (24min zoom video; transcript) into conditions in East Africa. One of the big complaints concerned milk and its availability.

Review: The Road of Donkey Bones – Alison Cornell

The Road of Donkey Bones: Captain Llewellyn Wynne Jones MC, A diary from Britain’s WW1 East Africa Campaign was researched and compiled by his granddaughter Alison Cornell.

While the diary and the photographs are of great interest, I cannot say this was a book which grabbed me. Alison has entered into a conversation with her grandfather in relation to his diary entries. There is little context set for his time in East Africa which was focused on the Turkana expedition rather than the main military engagement against the Germans.

Wynne Jones provides an insight into the 5 and 6 KAR – he was to serve with 6 KAR and worked alongside 5 KAR. The diary covers from January 1918 when he left for East Africa and runs through to November 1918 when he was evacuated with an injury. The text is supplemented with early family history and some events leading to Wynne Jones’ death on 10 August 1922 following a riding accident with the Territorial Army in Wales. Between East Africa and death, he served with the British forces in Russia where he obtained a bar to his MC, the MC having been awarded for action in France before he left for East Africa.

What is striking about the diary is the almost haphazard approach to the campaign, the challenge of porters and moving herds of cattle, camels and mules across desert terrain. The issue of rations lasting is another theme.

On the issue of registering porters he wrote (p135): “I was busy today registering all the porters. I wish they would only get decent names instead of these awful substitutes they have. How they can ever say them beats me.” It took him all day to register 125 of 250 names. We don’t hear complaints about names on day 2 or for any other occasions when new porters are enlisted, although there are issues around using new porters as opposed to seasoned porters. This is an enlightening little statement. Porters recruited on route were generally recorded for administrative reasons. The challenge was spelling or recording the names in a manner they would be understood by others. The vowel sounds are different and the consonant combinations irregular when it comes to British English – one just needs to see the bilingual dictionaries of the day which missionaries and doctors were compiling. And even if Wynne Jones had passed his Kiswahili test (something he doesn’t record) not everyone would have spoken Kiswahili, making life a little challenging to say the least.

My other little spot of interest was his diary entry noting “dinner at Muhoroni” on 10 October 1918 on his way home. Muhoroni was the place where Lord Kitchener had bought his farm back in 1911 and had turned into a limited company the weekend before he lost his life on 5 June 1916. His brother, HEC Kitchener who was serving in East Africa at the time, responsible for railway aspects, had taken the title of Lord Kitchener (K2 as I refer to him). I wonder if he was at Muhoroni at the time and entertained Wynne Jones at dinner… we’ll probably never know.

For anyone interested in finding out more about the King’s African Rifles with whom Wynne Jones served:

  • Moyse-Bartlett in his mammoth The King’s African Rifles has a section (pp419-452) although there is no mention of Wynne Jones. 5 KAR was formed in early 1917 from units of 2 KAR and 3 KAR operating on the northern border of British East Africa. 1/6 KAR had been formed at the end of April 1917 from ex-German askaris and other recruits (p354). It therefore made sense to send them north where they would not have to fight against their former units.
  • Per Finsted has provided an overview of the Sudanese involved in the Turkana expedition and a history in an 18 page article.

The importance of transport

One of the biggest complaints one hears in connection with the East Africa campaign of the First World War concerns logistics and the lack of food getting to the front line. The person who is most riled against in this regard is Jan Smuts when he was commander in chief between February 1916 and January 1917. His rapid moves meant that his lines of communication became overstretched with the result that on occasion men were on as low as 1/4 rations for a few days. This when rations were already at their minimum.

So, it was with interest that reading Conan Doyle’s Letters to the Press (pp60-), I discovered that he had something to say about the importance of transport during the Second Anglo-Boer or South African War of 1899-1902. Early in the war, Conan Doyle was a doctor in a private hospital in Bloemfontein, his offer of service to the War Office having been declined (see Something of themselves for more detail on Conan Doyle’s work in South Africa).

On 7 July 1900 in a letter to The British Medical Journal under the heading “The Epidemic of Enteric Fever at Bloemfontein”, he wrote:

When the nation sums up its debt of gratitude to the men who have spent themselves in this war I fear that they will almost certainly ignore those who have done the hardest and most essential work. There are three classes, as it seems to me, who have put in more solid and unremitting toil than any others. They are the commissariat, the railway men, and the medical orderlies. Of the three, the first two are the most essential, since the war cannot proceed without food and without railways. But the third is the most laborious, and infinitely the most dangerous.

He continues to expound the word of the orderlies who had to deal with the enteric outbreak where in one month there “were from 10,000 to 12,000 men down with this, the most debilitating and lingering of continued fevers. I know that in one month 600 men were laid inn the Bloemfontein Cemetery. A single day in this one town saw 40 deaths.”

The medical men and “the devotion of the orderlies” saw this through:

When a department is confronted by a task which demands four times more men than it has, the only way of meeting it for each man to work four times as hard. This is exactly what occurred, and the crisis was met. In some of the general hospitals orderlies were on duty for thirty-six hours in forty-eight…

The rest of the article is devoted to the medical conditions and how despite the lack of resources, the Medical Services achieved what they did.

An army marches on its stomach (Napoleon?) and ill men need decent food to heal properly, and for this transport would be required. When Millicent Fawcett met Kitchener to find ways to ease the issues in the concentration camps, he acknowledged that food was important but for him as commander of the army, the army was his priority. However, he had no issue adding an extra carriage with food (providing Fawcett’s group paid for it) to the trains delivering food along the railway lines. His soldiers had been suffering too from food shortages.

While South Africa had the railway line which ran the length of the country, as opposed to the three lines in East Africa which ran across, all three were single track meaning trains could move only in one direction or the other limiting the time they could run. More significantly, those needing to be fed were not always close to the railway line requiring other means to get them their rations. Porters in East Africa, ox-wagons in South Africa – each with their own limitations and challenges to overcome. As Army Surgeon General Dr Pike recorded in the report he wrote on the East Africa campaign, the transport drivers were the most hardworking, often up before most in camp and the last to go to bed, often without meals as they ensured their vehicles were fit to undertake the journey.

One could argue about whose role was most difficult and important in conducting the war, in both conflicts all were called on to exceed expectations and did. It’s where they worked together harmoniously and in sync that success was achieved. What Conan Doyle and Pike remind us of in their comments, is that those working “behind the scenes” are as significant as those on the front line.

Review: Sideshows of the Indian Army in World War 1 – Harry Fecitt

Sideshows in the Indian Army in World War 1 by Harry Fecitt was published in India in 2017.
For those who know Harry’s writing, the 28 chapters or essays in this publication follow the same style and format as his web and other articles. Harry assumes his reader knows the military terms and structures as well as the basic context in which the action is taking place, so anyone new to the Indian Army and its role in World War 1 would do well to read a little more widely of the theatres concerned to obtain some context.

These are accounts for the military-oriented person, but are of use to social, cultural and other historians and students for a quick overview, a list of significant people involved and those who received awards.

The book for me felt a little disjointed, a random set of essays thrown together. However, a close look at the dates in the titles, suggests the book follows a broadly chronological approach. However, given that the Indian Army was active on so many fronts simultaneously, I wonder whether a regional chronological approach would have made it a more coherent read – especially for those of us who prefer to read a book cover to cover rather than to dip in, as I imagine was the logic behind this publication’s structure. Operations cover Aden, the North West Frontier, Somaliland, China, Suez and Egypt, Persia, Macedonia, East Africa, the Bolsheviks, Sinai, Kamerun, Senussi and Burma.

Some might take umbrage at the use of the term ‘sideshows’. As with the African ‘sideshow’, the fighting and experiences of those caught up in the conflict was as intense as for those in the main theatres. Although some might not have known what they were fighting for, they knew who they were fighting for and had their reasons for doing so. One could even argue that India’s involvement on the Western Front was for India a sideshow, while the actions on the North West Frontier were not… nomenclature when dealing with the wider war has its own challenges. Similarly, others might be annoyed at the use of World War 1 rather than First World War – for those working cross culturally either is acceptable. Those who seem to have issue with the use of World War 1 seem to be mainly British military historians looking at conflict from a British perspective.

At the end of the day, Harry’s book covers a wide range of actions and is a start at drawing attention to India’s wider involvement in the war in a way which George Morton-Jack’s Army of Empire: The untold story of the Indian Army in World War 1 or The Indian Empire at War: From Jihad to victory, the untold story of the Indian Army in World War 1 (both 2018) and Alan Jeffreys’ The Indian Army in the First World War: New perspectives (2018) don’t. While Ian Cordoza in The Indian Army in World War 1, 1914-1918 (2019) gives a basic overview of the various theatres, Kaushik Roy’s Indian Army and the First World War, 1914-18 (2018), a more academic text, covers the same theatres Harry does providing a greater context and understanding of the Indian Army in the war and is probably the best current complementary text.

Novelists who served in East Africa

For some time now, Leo Walmsley has been on my list of people to investigate – he was a flight observer in the East Africa campaign writing about his experiences in Flying and Sport in East Africa published in 1920 and later So Many Loves published in 1969.

After his stint in East Africa, Leo returned to Robin Hood Bay where he had grown up and there wrote various novels of which, until recently, I was unaware. It was looking up Turn of the Tide to check if there was a link to East Africa that I discovered there was so much more to Leo than initially thought. Despite all his adventures in Africa – apparently surviving 14 crashes, Leo chose rather to concentrate his novels on life on the water around Robin Hood Bay, not far from where Bram Stoker was inspired with Dracula as Michael Clegg explains.

I’m still to read Leo’s memoirs – there have been other priorities – but I was so taken with my discovery of him being a novelist, I had to share it.

And in common with the other novelist to come out of the East Africa campaign – in fact he was writing books whilst in the field – Francis Brett Young, both have societies in their names. The Walsmley Society and FBY Society respectively.

Brett Young actually wrote Marching on Tanga in East Africa, the first version being lost at sea when the ship it was on was torpedoed. His letters at the Cadbury Library in Birmingham are quite moving on this account. He was able to eventually rewrite it but could not recover the lost photographs. Unlike Walmsley, Brett Young who was a doctor with the Indian Army in the East Africa campaign, used the campaign for a couple of his books, notably Jim Redlake (1930) and Crescent Moon (1918), the first of which I have read.

A German writer, Balder Olden served as a transport rider at the start of the war, capturing his experiences in Kilimandsharo and On Virgin Soil (1930)

A final novelist to have been in theatre at the time is Gertrude Page who lived in Rhodesia. She wrote a book of short stories and a novel, Follow After (1915) and Into the Limelight (1918) about life on the Rhodesian front and the challenges of deciding whether to serve and, if so, where to serve.

Various other novels and stories involve the East African campaign in particular which were published during, or soon after, the war but these were based on news travelling to England.

More on the novels can be found in two papers I’ve had published – Fictional Accounts of the East Africa Campaign and The End of the 1914-1918 War in Africa (Anglica) whilst the Historical Association has an article on CS Forrester’s The African Queens.